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"Least significant tempest-in-a-teapot in the history of world Jewry." Maybe yes, maybe no.

dotCommonweal's needler-in-chief, Gerelyn Hollingsworth, has needled yours truly for failing to mention the vote of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions (but not Israeli academics) for the West Bank occupation and settlements. NYTimes report.

INSTEAD, here is a report of a community discussion, "What it means to be pro-Israel in America?" held at the esteemed 92nd Street Y.

Apparently it means different things to different people (surprise!).  Panel members included Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, David Harris of the AJC, and John Podhoretz of Commentary, with Jane Eisner of the Forward moderating (sort of). The audience also seems to have played an active part. It is refreshing and edifying to know that within the Jewish community, there are people willing to think about and debate this fraught subject (though one of the panelists left in a huff).  Haaretz (Chemi Shalev)  gives a vivid account of the proceedings.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Hi, Margaret!

Sorry you regard questions and observations as needling.   In Commonweal's first issue, 89 years ago, the editors took a different view:

Where the opinion of its editors, contributors and readers differs on subjects yet unsettled by competent authority, it will be an open forum for the discussion of such differences in a spirit of good temper.

(Why not take a lesson from "the Jewish community" and WELCOME disagreement?) 

(I agree that the American Studies Association's behavior is lame.  Most pathetic, imho, are the chicken-hearted members who abstained from voting.  Eeuuuww.) 

If the Ha'aretz news story is correct, I'm not sure I'm either refreshed or edified. What it told me is that neither plain old-fashioned seclularists nor plain old-fashioned Christians of whatever denomination, have a monopoly on really stupid polarization. We should all welcome disagreement, and should all learn to deal with it in a civil way.

I remember (I think) an unpleasant incident perhaps two or three years ago in which the late Tony Judt was banned from speaking at some gathering in New York (at the Polish consulate-general perhaps) because he was deemed to be insufficiently (or incorrectly) pro-Israel.

I haven't seen the American Studies Association resolution, but in general I think such boycotts (if that's what this is) are a bad idea, as far as the intellectual and scholarly worlds are concerned. On the other hand, there's a certain amount of discussion going on about how far it is proper and valuable for American educational institutions to form ties with those in China, given human rights questions, the prevaling attitudes to academic freedom in PRC universities and so on. It's one of those "when do you do moreharm than good" questions, and the answers aren't easy.

Is the ASA boycott vote significant or not?  I think it is insignificant because of the ever-increasing degree to which Israel is being integrated into the world.  Just last week, CERN voted unanimously to admit Israel to full membership, making it the only non-European member.


In 2010, Israel was admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the “OECD”), a 34-member organization of Western-oriented countries committed to democracy and free markets.


According to the 2013 KOF Index of Globalization, which measures economic, social and political integration into the world, Israel ranked 29th among 207 countries, the highest ranking among Middle East countries.


During the past 25 years, since the end of the Cold War, Israel’s diplomatic position in the world has dramatically improved.  Since 1989, Israel has established full diplomatic relations with nearly 70 countries.  Today the only non-Muslim-majority countries with which Israel has no relations are North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Bhutan


How did South Africa stand with the international community during the apartheid days? (I'm asking;  I don't know) The anti-apartheid boycotts seemed pretty effective I thought; did South Africa have full diplomatic relations with most of the other countries at the time?

My problem with boycotts in general and this one in particular is that it is collective punshment and it doesn't punish the ones responsible for the perceived wrong.  Why should the scholars of Israel be singled out for the actions of the Israeli government?

Everyone on my own Chrstmas list is getting a bottle of kosher certified organic olive oil from Sindyanna of Galilee,a cooperative of Arab and Jewish women in Northern Israel who are creating a market for Arab olive growers to sell their products.  Its  better to support something good when you can than to protest something bad. 



Irene:  I don't know in detail the history of the boycott of South Africa, and do not believe the situation in Israel and South Africa are comparable, but I do know that the boycott of South Africa was an economic boycott and that the attempt, which has been going on a long time, to initiate the same against Israel has largely been a failure, as indicated by the KOF Globalization Index.  When just economic integration is taken into account, Israel ranks even higher than its 29th ranking overall, and its degree of integration is growing, not shrinking.  I applaud your support of joint Israeli-Arab endeavors.  We need more of them.

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